After visiting Spain and having some trouble finding a strong permaculture community (in fairness, I could have looked harder), I decided to spend some time in Portugal where I'm pretty sure there is a strong permaculture community. I am sharing my findings in hopes they'll be useful to others looking for a place to permaculture socially.
Please keep in mind the below is subjective to my perspective as a 30 something tech worker and based on a few days of observation. I'm used to fairly forested areas on the west coast of the US and lots of protection from my own lack of common sense . I am curious if you disagree with my impressions or if I've missed something.
The 3 destinations I've explored are
Area ~1h north of Lisbon
Around Tabua and Arganil
Area directly east of Serra de Estrela
Besides a permaculture community, my other criteria is access to beautiful and reasonably challenging hikes (latter being why south of Castelo Branco is out). Within 1h to a decent hospital and 2h to airport also important.
In each area, I'm staying at a "farm stay" Airbnb and I've reached out to permies I've met on the internet for at least a chat (either on Workaway or by asking Airbnb hosts for local contacts). I'll be using these contacts to understand what life in the area is like. My goal was to spend a few days in each area and longer if I like it.
Impressions: ~1h north of Lisbon
I stayed with a British couple who are relatively new to the area and live on a small farm. Did some hiking and went to the beach, as well as food shopping and lots of driving/walking through towns.
What I liked
- People are incredibly nice and willing to help. This is based on interaction with shop keepers and confirmed by my Airbnb host. People greeted me while hiking.
- Strong individual farming culture. It seems like everyone here has a small farm. Besides vegetables/grapes, I saw a number of citrus trees, sheep, pigs and quite a few chained up guard dogs.
- Proximity to airport, presumably better hospitals and general opportunities for buying things compared to more remote area of Portugal.
What I didn't like
- Both in terms of farming and the nature visible while hiking, the area looks exhausted. Lots of abandoned houses. Soil is very light in color and doesn't seem to hold water well. Very few patches of the beautiful native Mediterranean trees and lots of ugly eucalyptus trees or outright deforestation. Lots of "not nature" in nature parks (antennas, paved roads everywhere, farming activity).
- Perceived lower standards of "safety". For example, wood stove in my stay leaks smoke. One lane roads with steep drop offs and no guard rails. While hiking, I encountered an off-leash dog which barked aggressively at me with no owner in sight (there were lots of chained up aggressive dogs in general). Possibly the expanses of highly flammable eucalyptus also fit in this category. Also, some really low doorways (will see if trend continues).
I stayed with a Brit and visited a permaculture teaching center, as well as doing some hikes in the area.
What I liked
- People are still very nice and willing to share their knowledge. - Shop keepers went out of their way to communicate and get to know me better. Fewer dogs and consequently no aggressive dogs.
- While there's less evidence of farming (fields) and production, people here appear to live sustainably. Solar panels and wood smoke can be seen from houses.
- Fiber optic internet at my Airbnb. Wowed that this is available in such a rural area.
What I didn't like
- As before, nature in the area appears exhausted and abused. Hiking shows either eroded mountains devoid of trees, burned trees or eucalyptus plantations. While the soil looks better than around Lisbon, there's not a lot of use of it for food production. Despite this being the end of the harvest season, most food I saw in houses appears to be purchased.
- Roads and anything to do with transportation is pretty bad. Roads are poorly lit, poorly marked and a least a couple were crumbling on the sides into deep valleys. Drivers drive old (less safe) cars and are surprisingly aggressive with a poor notion of "safe following distance". Some houses don't have road access or have steep dirt road access which can only be navigated by an off-road vehicle.
- Buildings are poorly built and poorly insulated. Shops are freezing inside and are even colder than outside. Heating system at my stay broke multiple times. Walls are built from unmortared stone which can be felled by moving dirt or human hands. This is considered normal/traditional whereas solid walls and temperature control are luxuries.
- 2 separate occasions where people where burning vegetation within city limits (Tabua and Arganil) creating poor quality air.
Impressions: Area directly east of Serra de Estrella
I stayed at a large farm run by a Dutch family, which produced olive oil, had some sheep and horses. One thing I liked is that Serra de Estrella had more trees, maybe even 50% cover in some areas. One thing I didn't like is that even here, the majority of food appears to be imported from Spain as opposed to being locally produced. Given the accommodations were colder and less clean than previous hosts, I left after one night.
The trend was clear that I wouldn't be comfortable in Portugal (further confirmed by being unable to find accommodation east of Estrella which did not rely on traditional wood stoves). The primary reasons being a lack of unspoiled nature and a lack of comfort both indoors and while driving.
I decided to hoof it to Spain. Upon crossing the border I was met with well-maintained roads which were clearly marked and populated by modern cars driving safe distances from each other. I also had the pleasure of driving through a beautiful fully forested area in the south of Leon. I am now recuperating with jamon in a well-insulated and heated house in Andalucia.
In terms of permaculture community, I think permies.com will suffice. The people in Spain are friendly enough that we can find other common topics of discussion
Thank you for the well thought out and well written analysis. I know that Spain does have a large and vibrant permaculture community. I wwoofed in Europe and while I didn't make it to Spain I know a large community exists there across the country
When you reach your lowest point, you are open to the greatest change.
posted 11 months ago
James, it seems like you have some experience with permaculture communities I gotta head down to Salkum some day, hike Rainier and check out what you're up to. Until I reached Spain, this trip made me homesick for the Pacific Northwest (I'm in the Seattle area). It seems like my original reason for looking outside the US (high healthcare costs and poor outcomes) might be fixed given enough time.
I Wonder why your impressions are that valuable to a permaculture online comunity since its based on a few days road trip through a somewhat Hard topography and heavily rural country and your comparison of our unatural forest to Spains cars...lol
Portugal and Spain are perfect for permaculture projects for the following reasons:
. Desertfying comunities and landscapes
. Cheap to average land cost
. Degraded soils
. Excessive eucaliptus and pine monoculture forests.
. Sun and water
. Great, helping people
. Well, we belong to the EU.
posted 10 months ago
The cultural predisposition to not heating buildings was consistent across the country. I've visited high end organic shops which had no heating and the staff wore sweaters indoors. I went to a reasonably expensive restaurant in Sintra which was heated, but as soon as I went to the bathroom... unheated and freezing cold toilet seats. I've seen people preparing dinner indoors wearing jackets, which is not something I've ever seen in any European country (granted I haven't been to all of them). For me it was downright uncomfortable - because so few buildings were heated there were days where I was cold constantly. If you're like me, one thing you might do differently is not visit during a cold weather month
Had I known the lack of trees, I probably wouldn't have visited at all and spent that week in Northern Spain instead (the main part of the Iberian Peninsula which I haven't visited). From what I recall in Barcelona, there were plenty of trees in the Pyrenees and with luck that trend may continue westward as well.
If I'm wrong based on "a few days road trip through" "heavily rural country", I'm happy to learn from others with more experience where my impressions were incorrect.
I once heard from a Swedish woman that she never had been so cold as when she went to Italy for Christmas. In nordic countries we are truly prepared for the cold, and building is serious business there, whereas in the south, people have other priorities. I have noticed this for Portugal as well.
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